Art at Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp

Today Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial and Museum owns one of the largest collections of art
made in or related to the Auschwitz concentration camp. These artworks due to the extreme
conditions in which they were made stand as a testimony to a time, place, and emotion that
was Auschwitz. Artworks made in Auschwitz enable us to discover the feelings and lives of
inmates which they had to face on daily basis at this Nazi death camp. The Museum’s collection
includes the artwork made officially in the camp and those made illegally as well as different

Official works commissioned by the SS mostly consist of drawings of manuals, models, and
paintings of plans for the camp extension, as well as drawings documenting the course of
illnesses and medical experiments. In addition, there are many artistic handicraft items made
for the needs of SS authorities in the camp. The SS exploited the inmates with artistic skills
making them use those same skills for their private collections. These artworks had to be
unrelated to camp and were mostly landscapes, genre art, portraits, handicrafts, and minor
sculptures, which were then unofficially sent back to the homes of SS authorities.

Considering the number of artworks made at Auschwitz majority are made illegally by the
inmates using stolen materials from the SS offices and workshops. The largest collections of
illegal artworks are that of portraits of inmates, other larger collections are those which were
unrelated to camps life such as landscapes, genre scenes, and seasonal cards, as well as small
handicraft items. Drawings of life and happenings in the camp are fewer in number because of
the dangers faced while trying to make such drawings.

Post-war works of art made by the artists who survived the camp are can be thought of as
separate groups of artworks made in Auschwitz. These post-war works are made in an attempt
to reflect on the tragedy and horrifying reality of life in the Auschwitz concentration camp.
These artworks consist of elaborated works and even some series of works depicting the
conditions of inmates’ experiences such as the roll calls, sanitary conditions, hunger,
punishment, humiliations, as well as emotions connected to those experiences.

The number of artworks made in camp cannot be correctly estimated due to the destruction of
the artworks from both SS authorities and inmates alike. Moreover, many works were lost with
the evacuation of the camp and in the few first months of the liberation of Auschwitz
concentration camp.

The reasons behind the creation of artworks at Auschwitz were different but all had the same
deeply rooted reality of life in camp as a theme. Some inmates made them as a distraction from
the camp’s life and the nightmare that was living there. Others tried to depict their experiences
and feelings on the canvas or paper. We can say that art made in Auschwitz had an important

role in the life of inmates serving as a mental tool for coping with the horrifying reality they
were facing. Moreover, the art at Auschwitz is the expression of the need that humans have to
leave a mark or a trace of themselves in hope that if they die, they would leave a testimony of
their suffering.

Our trip to Auschwitz-Birkenau

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